I never grew up in any other culture, so I don’t know how absolutely universal this, but books, TV, and other media seem to be in love with the idea of the bad boy with the heart of gold. This isn’t anything new, obviously, but it is sort of fascinating.
What drives ‘the common man’, if there were any such animal, to root for what is essentially the bad guy? Do we believe so strongly that the ‘authority’ is screwing us so badly that it just brings a smile to our faces to see somebody take them down a notch?
Robin Hood is an easy example and its easy to see why he is popular. He steals from the rich and gives to the poor. No matter how much he keeps for himself he’s won some loyalty, even though he’s injuring and hurting plenty of ‘poor’ a long the way. What, you think all those guards and soldiers he knocks out have health insurance and a tidy little nest egg for retirement?
I just finished watching The Town, with Ben Affleck and Jon Hamm. A relatively entertaining flick, in which we are supposed to root for a bank robber that deep down has a heart of gold, or so we’re told. The only things he does to earn this reputation is complain when his teammate brutalized a bank employee for no reason and that he doesn’t shoot a woman that we know he is sexually attracted to. Other than these minor actions, Affleck’s character does nothing worthy of your admiration. He plans bank heists that put large groups of innocent bystanders in danger. He steals money. He eventually shoots cops. Yet, the entire premise of the movie hangs on you rooting for him over the FBI agent close on his tail, just because the FBI agent isn’t nice and sweet to criminals. My guess is that it worked and America bought into the idea, after all the movie earned 92 million in just 16 weeks. I’ll be perfectly honest, I bought in as well.
This is hardly the only example of cheering for anti-social behavior. Dexter makes a career out of it and in that case we aren’t even rooting for thieves – it’s a serial killer pulling in loyal viewers each week.
It does make you wonder.